By Lian Bunny ’17
Basketball coaching legend Sr. Maria Pares, O.S.F., will be the keynote speaker at this year’s National Girls and Women in Sports Day on Tuesday, April 21, at St. Bonaventure University’s Reilly Center Arena.
Sr. Maria will speak at 9:45 a.m. Her talk is titled “Title IX: High School Physical Education and Sport: Are We Making Progress?”
Local high school girls and their coaches will then participate in sporting clinics along with St. Bonaventure’s female student-athletes and staff.
A member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, Sr. Maria graduated from Sacred Heart Academy in Buffalo in 1958 and has coached women’s basketball for 40 years.
In 1973, Sr. Maria began coaching women’s basketball at Sacred Heart. In 13 seasons, Sacred Heart lost only 10 of 239 games — a .957 winning percentage — and was in the middle of a 127-game winning streak when it won the New York State Class C championship in 1986.
In 1982, Canisius College in Buffalo hired Sr. Maria to be the head coach of their women’s basketball team — even though she remained coach at Sacred Heart.
Inheriting a Canisius team with a record of 13-10, Sr. Maria’s team produced a 26-5 record and a New York State Championship in her first season. In her second season, the team went 18-5, recaptured the state Division II title, and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. She was honored as Converse Region II’s Coach of the Year.
Sr. Maria’s 108-39 record at Canisius earned her a chance to move up to Division I at Marquette University in 1986. (Canisius’ women’s programs didn’t move to Division I until the late 1980s.)
She coached Marquette to a third-place finish in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (MCC) and in 1989 established the Warrior Tip Off Classic, Marquette’s first women’s basketball tournament.
Sr. Maria returned to Sacred Heart to coach in 1999 and was inducted into the 2012 class of New York State’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Kelly Farrell, a St. Bonaventure sophomore softball player and Sacred Heart graduate, played basketball under Sr. Maria for three years.
“Sr. Maria is probably the most experienced coach I have ever played under,” Farrell said. “Her passion can be heard more than it can be seen. It's kind of her signature. At every game, you never fail to hear her voice loud above the crowds, yelling to her players on the court. She wants to be sure that we remember what we did in practice and play our best at that current moment. Moreover, her passion adds to her dedication. It was very rare, if at all, [that] she missed a practice.”
Sr. Maria’s talk Tuesday will include some focus on women’s place in the history of sports.
“I found in the last 10 years that many young women don’t have a sense of history, not just in sports but anywhere,” Sr. Maria said. “They think history begins with them. There are people that go before you and provide the things you need to have. All these opportunities didn’t just happen.”
Sr. Maria said she wants to help people value young women in sports.
“It’s a privilege to be able to speak at this event,” Sr. Maria said. “It’s a delight to talk to young people and tell them they can make a difference.”
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